“I keep things in my head for a long time…” - Dallas Green talks City and Colour’s new album A Pill For Loneliness and the future of Alexisonfire
Dallas Green’s work ethic has always been extraordinary, so much so that it almost killed him.
The 39-year-old spent the 10 years of his career as guitarist and co-vocalist in all-conquering Canadian hardcore punks Alexisonfire. The band headlined huge shows all over the world and released four hit LPs, each of which went platinum. That though wasn’t enough for Green, who had been writing solo material, sadder, slower, folkier and more melodic material, which he named City and Colour.
Initially, he gave the tracks away for free online, but the demand for such that he eventually started his own label Dine Alone Records to release his debut solo album proper Sometimes in 2005. From there it grew and grew, Alexisonfire continued to thrive, but so did City and Colour. Green was constantly on tour, finishing commitments with one before immediately moving on to the other.
Eventually, in 2011, it came to a head. After a succession of nervous breakdowns and a battle with pneumonia, he decided to focus on City and Colour and Alexisonfire subsequently split.
Free to focus on City and Colour, Green has continued to grow and grow that project, but, inevitably, his work ethic led him down other paths. Most noticeably, in 2014, he formed You + Me with P!nk, combining for an album of duets. Then, after a short chat with his bandmates, he rejoined Alexisonfire.
Now Green’s sense of balance is much improved. Alexisonfire have yet to make a new album, but they have released a handful of singles and play arenas and the upper reaches of festival bills most year. He has continued to do City and Colour and unveils A Pill For Loneliness, his sixth LP under that moniker, this week.
It’s unsurprising, perhaps, that the album was born in a year Green planned to be a year off.
We spoke to him about his high wire balancing act, why he loves epic songs and the future of Alexisonfire...
When did the songs for this record begin to come together? You’ve been pretty busy with Alexisonfire recently?
“I wrote the first song way back in 2017, but that wasn’t really the start of the record. I finished touring my last record at the end of that year and for the first time, I decided that I wouldn’t put anything in front of me. Usually, I go straight into writing, make a record and then go back on tour. I didn’t want to do that. I decided to take a year off from having a schedule and just to see what came.”
How did you spend that year?
“I went and produced a friend’s record, I started a record label, I compiled and put out a live record, which was a long process, as well as jamming with Alexisonfire. I was writing the whole time, but never in a concentrated way. In the end, I started recording the record in April 2018, but I did it in bursts. I’d record for a week, stop, go away and then do another week. That meant it took a long time.”
Having more time must have been a luxury, you used to cram in City and Colour records between Alexisonfire tours…
“It was, but I knew I needed it mentally. I needed a year where I wasn’t doing exactly what I’ve been doing for 15 years, especially when I was doing Alexis and City and Colour at the same time. I wanted to put time into other things, but I was writing songs the whole time for what I assumed would become a City and Colour record. I wanted to approach that in a different way. It was a real learning curve, but I liked being able to come back to the music with a fresh perspective each time.”
When does Jacquire King come into the mix? Was he someone you knew already?
“He mixed my last album, so we got to know each other during that time. I made a record with a guy called Ben Rogers and I had Jacquire mix it. I was down there with him doing that and he said to me ‘Why don’t we just start recording your new songs?’. I turned and I said to him, `I'm not ready to make a record’ and he said not to think of it as a record, just getting songs down. We didn’t need to have a master plan, we just worked when we had open days in our schedules and keep working. We knew, after a while, we’d have a record.”
Jacquire has made some big records, Kings Of Leon, James Bay, can you see why he gets such a tune out of bands?
“Oh yeah, I knew that already, even from working with him just in the mixing process. I trusted him totally and I knew he’d get a good record from me whatever way we got it done.”
You’ve got a taste for longer ones on this album, there are three which go past the six-minute mark…
“I’ve always been a fan of really long songs, Mogwai are one of my favourite bands. I remember going to see them live when I was 17 and they opened with ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’, which is like 16 minutes long, and I loved every minute of it. I try to bring in all my influences to my records and I’m a fan of a lot of different styles of music. There are plenty of short ones too…”
What kind of record is it lyrically?
“The first four songs are quite personal, then when you get ‘Me And The Moonlight’ it starts to change, from that moment on it’s me talking about the world as a whole and us as human beings. That’s not to say they don’t relate to my own life, but they are more expansive.”
Which way does it come for you? Do you need a melody to work to? Or are you scribbling things down all the time?
“I don’t really scribble, I’m not a bulk writer. I keep things in my head for a long time. Occasionally I might write a word down or take a line from a book. I’m stockpiling ideas all the time, but they stay up in my head. I don’t have one way of songwriting. I never sit down and go ‘I’m going to write a song today’, pick up my guitar and go. I’m not one of those people.”
When did you decide on A Pill For Loneliness for the album title?
“I like to take a song title or a lyric, one that best sums up the record, and use that. I was thinking about calling it Songs Of Unrest, given there’s a track called ‘Song Of Unrest’ and I thought it fit well. Then I was watching the news and I saw that scientists are now trying to create a pill for loneliness and I thought that such a bummer.”
“We’re living in a world where we’re trying to use pills to fix something like that, rather than looking at the problem in a real way. I hate that it’s something we can buy, something that will take away the pain for two minutes. I thought it sounded a little romantic too, music is my own therapy session and it’s my own pill for loneliness. That settled it for me.”
You start on tour in October across the US and Canada, how are you going to pick what’s in your live set?
“It’s crazy. I was trying to do a setlist the other day, I’m doing solo shows and band shows. I thought I’d maybe do four songs from each record, which is not that much, but it’s 24 songs! What am I? Bruce Springsteen? I think it’ll be the ones I really want to play and then a few of the songs I know people want to here. I’ll try and vary it a lot, but I know I’ll let some people down. You can’t please everybody…”
How much is lined up? Is it US and Canada this year and then the rest of the world in 2020?
“Absolutely. We’re out until December and then we’ll have the holidays off. Then we start again late January. That’ll be UK, Europe, Australia, probably with a few festivals next summer.”
It’s a slightly different label set-up this time...
“It’s not too different. I’m still on Dine Alone Records, just on an imprint of my own. We started Dine Alone Records just to put out the first City and Colour record and it’s grown until this crazy big label. This new imprint is me going back to the beginning, my own little avenue, I’m not running the day to day on the label.”
You’ve just come off a big summer tour with Alexisonfire, how were those shows? Good fun?
“It was amazing. We’ve got a couple more songs recorded and I think we’ll fit some more shows in soon, as soon as our schedules allow. We feel really lucky that we’re able to still do that and people are still interested in listening to those tunes. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
How are you finding the balance? When Alexisonfire came to an end you were open about how much you were struggling with both bands, have you got it right now?
“We all have so much going on in our other lives. Whenever we get on stage, we all end up feeling like we should go on tour for two years and be that band again. But we’ve found a place where there’s no stress in it and a really happy medium where it’s just rewarding. It’s like at the start of the band, no expectations, just playing because we want to.”
That must have unimaginable a few years ago…
“It was. When I left the band there was a huge part of me that thought it would never again. Now it’s so much better, we love each other and we play so well. You put us in a room with our crowd and we’re still undefeated.”
City and Colour’s new album A Pill For Loneliness is out now in hmv stores.